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Odegbami: Making The Rest Of 2020 The Year Of The Football Field!

Odegbami: Making The Rest Of 2020 The Year Of The Football Field!

The best football stadium in Nigeria today is probably the new, state-of-the-art, magnificent edifice in Akwa Ibom State, the Akwa Ibom International Stadium, Uyo [pictured above]. It may also have the best football playing surface of lush, flat and green grass.

I have actually watched a few matches of the Super Eagles in the stadium and think that the field of grass is quite good. At the same time, I also think it is still not good enough compared to playing surfaces in most clubs in Europe that we see week-in, week out on television, and some that some of us have had the good fortune of playing on even during our days in football, decades ago.

So, as I write on the subject of football grounds, let me state clearly, first, that I know what I am ‘talking’ about from personal experiences that cannot be bought in the market place. Such experiences are required for a better understanding and appreciation of the subject of a good football pitch.


The playing surface of Akwa Ibom International Stadium Uyo


Several years ago, at the invitation of late Dr. Adeleke Olaiya, former President of the Nigeria School Sports Federation, NSSF, I attended the annual Umbro International Youth Football Tournament held in Manchester within the campus of the University of Manchester.

I counted 35 standard football fields on the grounds of the University. Each one of the grounds was well-grassed, flat, lush and green. The worst of the fields was as good as what we presently have in Uyo.

There was a whole department for the maintenance of the fields, with well over a hundred maintenance crew of grounds men and other staff working from sunrise to sunset tending to the fields. What I saw and learnt on that trip reinforced my education on the issue of grass fields, their impact on football and footballers, their essentiality as a driver of the football business, their serious maintenance regimen, and so on.

On another occasion, during the Manchester Commonwealth Games, I also visited the grounds of Manchester City Football Club, when Kevin Keegan was manager of the team. I met with two British consultants working with the grounds maintenance department of the club. They took me to see their latest experiment in the club, a hybrid of grass and rubber being tested on one of the many fields. There was regular ongoing research into improving the quality of the training fields around the club grounds, whilst the main stadium pitch remained entirely grass. Various experiments were going on, but the bottom line was that the main component of every field was grass.

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I eventually invited and brought both gentlemen to Nigeria when I was Chairman of the National Institute for Sports’ Governing Council. I took them to visit and conduct soil tests on the stadia in Enugu, Kaduna, Ibadan and Lagos. I still have the reports of their findings in my library. It was very interesting.

Of greater interest was that they saw the magnitude of the business of fixing all the grounds and never showed any interest to return and help us fix them.

They could not understand the attitude of Nigerian football officials that we met all over the country to the dilapidated football grounds. They met many of the well-trained grounds men in some of the stadia and were shocked at the stories they were told about the total lack of appreciation of the importance of the fields and of their work in maintaining them.

In their clime, football fields were treated and nursed like new born babies. As we followed them around Nigeria I knew what their lamentation was all about, because I had seen, experienced and played through all of my football career on the excellent and well-tended field of Liberty Stadium, Ibadan which was as good as some of the best in Europe today, even in those days. The daily maintenance of the Liberty Stadium field was a daily tourist attraction in Ibadan. So, I knew what they were talking about completely.

Unfortunately, no one has been concerned and reacted to my lamentation and advocacy for excellent grass fields for all Nigerian stadia. Instead State and the Federal Governments listened to the yarn of my friend, Dr. Amos Adamu, the most powerful man in the history of Nigerian sports, then a powerful member of CAF and FIFA, who successfully marketed the installation of FIFA-approved artificial grass surfaces in stadia around the country.

You cannot give what you do not have.
Until you play football you cannot teach it. Until you play the game up to a certain level you cannot fully appreciate some of the finer details, intricacies and sensitivities involved in it. A man who has never experienced ‘cold’ cannot full appreciate what ‘hot’ is. So, my voice was lost in the midst of discordant voices.

A man that is not grounded in football will never be able to fully understand what difference a playing surface makes in a match, in the development of a player, in the coaching of team strategies and tactics, in packaging friendly-to-the-eye television coverage, in the overall quality of football played by teams, in the marketing of football as an entertainment package, in live attendances to matches, in the selling of the rights of domestic Nigerian league football matches to foreign broadcasters, in creating job opportunities for specialists in groundsmanship and the aspect of agriculture related to grass fields, and so on and so forth.

So, Nigerian football development stagnated on a plateau where it has remained since the late 1990s following the installation of astro turf in many Nigerian stadia, and the total absence of any grass fields elsewhere for training purposes.


Teslim Balogun Stadium


Teslim Balogun Stadium Lagos playing surface

Excellent training and match fields are, probably, the single most important items in our football development shopping list that can kick-start the biggest revolution in Nigerian football, and make it leave the tarmac and head for the stars.

Let the transformation of our players start from home. One of the most essential things we require for this to happen are the good grounds for training and for matches.

Let us make the construction of football fields with a certain minimum standard – flat, and rich green lush grass – in all the nooks and crannies of this country, a priority. Let us set a minimum acceptable standard below which the grounds in club, Local Governments and State stadia must not fall.

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I believe that when we fix the grounds in Nigerian football the real revolution will begin.

The best performances can only be had on the best pitches. Great performances are impossible on bad pitches. It is as simple as that. The field is so important that on a bad playing surface even Lionel Messi would be reduced to the level of a local player bungling inconsistently from match to match.

Have you ever wondered why Nigerian players never end their careers playing back at home in Nigeria’s domestic league?

Have you ever wondered why foreign European clubs that used to come and play very freely in Nigeria in the past would not dare to come today at any price? Part of the answer is the bad pitches for football matches.

A few years ago, on behalf of Chief Mike Adenuga, the Chairman of Globacom, I negotiated for Manchester United to come on a playing tour to Nigeria. Everything was smooth sailing in the negotiations until they were told that the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos a beautiful edifice, had an astro turf playing surface. They would not come at any price and play on such a surface. It is for that same reason that Arsenal FC would also not come to play when they were invited some years ago. Indeed, no European club has agreed to come and play in Lagos since the National Stadium (even with its poor but grass surface) was abandoned and matches moved to other stadia.

A poor pitch creates all manner of challenges and problems for players, coaches, teams and match results. It is a very bad advertisement for football. It is a nightmare for artistic players and coaches. It is also the biggest threat to the business of football. When football is attractive it will sell. It is as simple as that.

Finally, let us declare the rest of 2020 as the Year of the Football Field, when every club, and every State and Federal government football stadium, shall be grassed or re-grassed to a minimum acceptable standard with adequate provision for maintenance, personnel, and the tools to sustain them.

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  • Chuck 2 years ago

    If you can focus on this kind of awareness campaign to bring people in authority to their senses, you have my support.

  • KangA 2 years ago

    Thanks, the Mathematical. You’ve risen above parochial interests to occupy your rightful place, proffering solutions for our ailing soccer industry. Sorry to say it, I agree with you that  the playing fields in Naija are an eyesore when compared to those in the Western world. And you wonder why we lose matches that are decided on standard pitches. The uninformed heap all the blame on the poor players. 

    In Nigeria can a player correctly predict the directions of projection of a ball that has been kicked onto the field? I bet he just can’t because of the uneven surface. The ball may go East instead of North. But our thieving politicians don’t understand this. I’m happy you’re raising your voice to call for soul searching.


  • Chairmanfemi 2 years ago

    If and only if Segun Odegbami can write articles like this always, we won’t have problem at all.

    Now while I read through, I was just so pained inside of me because the people who are meant to read this, people at the elm of our Football won’t read it. Awareness, Awareness, Awareness yet zero result. Nigeria is just a failed state when it comes to Governance. The only thing that bounds us together, Football is mismanaged.

    SMH, well let the writing continue Pa Segun. Hopefully, God will touch there heart one day

    • MaziNaija 2 years ago

      My brother, its is our “hopefully, God will touch their heart one day” mentality that has seen us waste 6 decades of opportunities to take our rightful place in the comity of nations. Questions needs to be asked, directed to the right offices in the country and laws made and enforced. Until then, all our prayers is in vain cos the God that we all call on has said: heaven helps those who help themselves.

  • Lord AMO 2 years ago

    Uncle Shege, unlimited gbosas for you just for this article. With one stroke of the pen you have changed my perception of you from all those malicious articles you were writing. No wahala sha. Welcome back.

    Now even in my advancing age i still lace up my boots at least 2-3 times a week. I don’t travel to any corner in the world without my boots and let me tell you ehn, nothing compares to seeing good green grass fields. Your appetite to play immediately gets wetted. It doesn’t even matter if I’m on my way to play, just driving by a lush green field gives me that tingling, joyous feeling. This is just me a hopeless amateur who does this for the fun and rush I get from stroking the football. Now I can only imagine what those who are true professionals feel when they come home and see these eye sores we call pitches. Simple sideways passes bouncing all over the place. It just reduces their true capability.

    Artificial turf is not the answer! The ball speeds up after a bounce and the bounce is not natural. Nigeria’s style of play, which is on the ground and based on lightning quick attack after slow build up, is not suited to artificial turf. It is not that difficult to procure and maintain grass fields all over the country. Our climate is great for it. Let us do the needful man. We can if we just decide we want to.

  • Oakfield 2 years ago

    Whatever happens, a leopard can never change its spots. All na smoke screen mode for the gullible. He still remains who he is. He’s on a PR redemption mission.

    • GLORY 2 years ago

      Hahahaha. I haven’t read the article. I saw Odegbami on the headline and quickly scrolled down the comment to look for Oakfield..Lolzz..Broda abeg forgive. Odegbami may have wronged loads at some point but he remains a football icon in Africa and could have been in world bracket if he had played in Europe. Broda just kindly let Baba mathematical 7 be I beg.

      • Oakfield 2 years ago

        Lol….. @glory….. All na smoke screen. I think, his inability to play abroad really affected his way of reasoning a great deal.

  • David 2 years ago

    Magnificent edifice God will continue to bless Akpabio for this stadium of pride for Nigeria…please help us tell pinnick for now that he should play all our home matches in Akwa Ibom Stadium and let go tribalism and partisanness ok